Well, Since You Asked

On this Monday, since I’m going to spending most of the day flying across the country toward my next two weeks of work, I thought I’d take the opportunity to clear up a few things. You see, I’m often asked about my job, my schedule, and the implications of being away from my daughter for two weeks at a time, amongst other things. So here’s a little Q & A on some of the most common inquiries.

What is it like out there in Northern Alberta, really?

Honestly, not as bad as you’re imagining. Yes, it’s incredibly cold in the winter and pretty hot in the summer. The air is also really dry, so people like me who have sinus problems on a good day tend to be stuffed up a lot and get regular nosebleeds. But it’s not an awful place to work. Now, mind you, a lot depends on the site you’re working at and where you’re living while working there. The site I’m on right now – Kearl Lake – has a lot of good points, including an excellent view of safety. The camp that most people at Kearl stay at is a perfectly fine one. It has its problems, like thin walls and a couple of odd rules, but it also has nice gyms in each building and pretty good food. There are definitely places you want to stay away from out in that area of the country, but I’ve been lucky so far.

Isn’t it weird being out there with all those men?

First of all, yes, I’m a woman in the trades, which is a male-dominated field. But that doesn’t mean that I’m, like, the only woman out there. There have been several other women on my crew, and there are lots of women out there in construction, not to mention all the ladies who are out there doing things like booking flights and running the camps. Yeah, I work overwhelmingly with men, but it’s not like I’m the only woman out there. Plus a lot of the camps have rules designed to make the women feel more comfortable. At the PTI camps (like Wapasu, which is where I used to be) they have rules stating that men and women do not share bathrooms. They mess up sometimes, but as long as you point out the mistake they’ll fix it.

All of that aside, even if I was the only woman on the crew and I did have to share a bathroom with a guy, it actually wouldn’t seem weird to me. I’ve always gotten along easier with guys than girls, so…*shrug*

Don’t you just want to die after so many straight days of work?

When I first went out West I really thought I’d lose my mind working for 14 days straight, all 12-hour shifts. But to be perfectly honest, it goes by much faster than you’d imagine. This likely depends on how much you like/hate your particular job, but for me it’s not too bad at all. I don’t love my job by any means, but the days go by pretty fast, and usually the second week of work just kinda slips by. Mind you, by day 14 I am SO READY TO GO HOME, and I can’t imagine having to do a longer shift than that, but the two weeks really isn’t as awful as it sounds.

Isn’t that kind of work hard? (*Imagine this question asked in a super-whiny female voice, or a super-condescending male voice.*)

I’m a woman. I’m not useless. Both sexes really need to stop assuming that because I’m physically small and genetically female, somehow I can’t do physical labor or anything dirty or requiring tools. Grow up, people. Geez.

Isn’t it just awful being away from your daughter for so long?

This is the one I get the most, particularly from my mother-friends who often follow up the question with phrases such as, “I could never do that,” and, “You’re so tough.” I do appreciate the sentiment, believe me, and when I first began to travel out West for work I really though it was going to result in an emotional breakdown. Surely being away from my daughter for two weeks out of every four would be just the worst thing ever, right? Well, yes…and no. I can’t honestly say that I don’t miss her a ton when I’m away, but the truth is that my schedule actually affords me more time with my daughter than a traditional work shift would. Some simple math explains how. If I were working a normal 9 to 5, the baby would barely be awake by the time I was leaving for work, and by the time I got home and we had supper and she had a bath, we’d have a grand total of between one and two hours together before it was time for bed. So during a normal four weeks we’d have approximately 136 hours of awake time together (10 hours a week throughout the week and approximately 24 hours each weekend), and during a lot of those hours I would be tired and stressed-out from work, so it wouldn’t all be fun, happy time. Alternatively, with the schedule I’m on now I get two straight weeks (minus approximately one day during which I’m flying), or 156 hours of awake time together, and that time is fatigue- and stress-free because when you leave your job on the other side of the country there is absolutely no reason to think about it while you’re home.

It’s not an ideal situation by any stretch of the imagination, and of course it sucks having 14 days in a row during which I don’t get to hug or kiss my baby girl, but it isn’t nearly as horrible as other people imagine it to be. Trust me, if I can do it, anyone can. I’m a huge wuss.

Conclusion!

All in all, when people find out that I work out West they make a lot of assumptions. They imagine that I must only be there out of desperation because they assume that every aspect of working out West is awful. And they imagine that I must have a heart of stone to be able to stand being in the middle of nowhere, far away from my family for so much time. Unfortunately this is the kind of attitude that keeps people from trying the whole “out West” deal. Like I said, it’s not ideal, and I can certainly understand why people choose not to do it, but it’s not nearly as terrible as the imagination makes it out to be. Not to mention, if it weren’t for my taking the plunge and trying it out, we would be significantly further behind in life than we are right now.

And the morals of the story are: don’t judge something before you’ve given it a shot, and never underestimate your ability to do big, scary things. A lot of the time it turns out to be not such a big deal after all, and can even change your life for the better.

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How I Became the Exact Opposite of What You’d Expect Me to Be

Most of you who happen to be reading this blog know that I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was a little girl. What only a few of you will know is what my day job is. I am an industrial instrumentation technician by trade, and many times since I began this career I have been asked how I happened to come into such an occupation. It’s a valid question. Even in this day and age the industrial and construction trades are a vastly male-dominated field, and even without going into the gender issue I simply do not appear to be the kind of woman who would do this kind of work. I’m small, I don’t appear to be very strong, and I enjoy activities that lean to the artistic side of the spectrum, and yet I do a job that requires a lot of grunt work, numbers and technological understanding, and often lands me in positions that are dirty, loud, and either extemely hot or extremely cold.

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This was once my desk. Can you FEEL the dirt and stress?

So how did an artisticly-inclined girl with aspirations of becoming a novelist wind up in such a physical, technology-based, male-dominated profession? Well the first thing that you have to understand is that, while I’ve always loved the arts and greatly enjoyed such activities as writing, drawing, and singing, I was actually an extremely well-rounded child. To say that I was a nerd would not be stretching the truth in the slightest. I loved school for most of my younger years. I was always great at things like writing essays and book reports, but I was also very good at math and very interested in science. Often on this blog I will focus on the parts of my childhood that lead me to wanting to be a writer, but there were many other important aspects of my childhood that lead me on different paths. I’ve always loved understanding the way something works. When I was two years old my father caught me shoving a peanut butter and jelly sandwich into our VCR. In that moment he explained to me what the VCR was for and showed me how to use it, and I think that instilled in me a desire to know how everything worked. When something broke in our house I would take it apart and try to fix it. I rarely succeeded because the problem was usually electrical, but it was fun to try. And it didn’t have to be an appliance or gadget…if anything at all broke I would try to find a way to fix it. I remember once when one of my grandmother’s frames broke, I was determined to repair it for her. The piece that makes it stand up had snapped clean off, leaving two little holes where it had once been. I took a piece of scrap wire – a nice, stiff piece – and carefully bent it into a sturdy rectangle, the ends of which I poked through the holes in the frame. I was extremely proud to have “engineered” a solution. I felt an extreme sense of pride every time I managed to correct a problem.

Sometime in high school I decided that I was going to aim for the technologies, but I wasn’t sure which field to aim for. During my senior year, right around when we were supposed be starting to apply to colleges, one of my teachers told me about this program that was supposed to have an excellent reputation for graduates getting jobs right away. I never was 100% clear on the course or the jobs that would result from it, but it had something to do with GPS sytems. Since I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do exactly, and I had to start applying to colleges asap, I decided to go for it. As it was, that particular program was not in the cards for me. Oh, I applied, and I got in…that was no problem. But in early August of that year I got a letter from the school, letting me know that the program had been cancelled and that if I planned to attend that September I had to choose a new field of study immediately.

I can remember being panicked. I hadn’t been thinking about what I wanted to take because I had already been enrolled. I scoured the course schedules, looking for something technology-based that wasn’t too mechanical (I had absolutely no interest in cars) or design-centric (I also had no interest in sitting in a room drawing up plans for the rest of my life). What I landed on was something that I didn’t even really understand, but it sounded interesting and I was in a hurry. That program was a dual-graduate program. In three years I could graduate with a diploma in Electrical Engineering, and with one further year I could graduate with a Bachelor of Technology in Controls and Instrumentation. As it turned out I did both, though not with ease. There were some courses that nearly broke my spirit (having a professor with an extraordinarily thick Chinese accent and extremely poor anger management issues did not help), and there was one point during my third year when I nearly had a nervous breakdown, wondering what the hell I was doing and how on Earth I had come to find myself in these strange courses (programming languages were a huge surprise to me, and I don’t believe for a second that there is anyone on this planet who truly understands VHDL language).

But I got through, somehow or another, and I was lucky enough within six months of graduation to get a call from a paper mill located only an hour and a half from home. I moved to town for the job and promptly found out that four years of schooling had taught me positively jack. Don’t get me wrong, quite a bit of the stuff I learned in school was totally necessary, but let me make this perfectly clear: until you have actually worked in the trades, you know nothing.

The rest is history, I suppose. I spent five years at the paper mill, doing industrial maintenence. I was the first and only woman to ever be on the instrumentation crew at that mill, an honor that I’m fairly certain I still hold. I learned a lot, whether it was doing complex calculations and redesigning parts of the overall control program, or hanging underneath a grim-drenched pulp refiner with grease in my hair and dirty water dripping off my wrench and into my mouth while I fought with a jammed valve. And then, when the mill shut down, I took the (for me) ultimate leap and travelled out West to try my hand at commissioning work, which involves significantly less grease and grim, but significantly more unfortunate weather issues.

But when it comes right down to it, when people ask me how I wound up in this job, I always have to think about it for a moment or two before I answer, because honestly, half the time I don’t even know. What I do know is that winding up in this career, however unlikely it may seem when you look at me, has worked out for me. It’s not always glamorous work, but I enjoy it, and it allows me to take care of my family.

And until I become a rich, famous novelist, it’ll just have to do. šŸ˜‰

You Know What Opinions are Like, Don’t You?

A fellow blogger, one I happen to follow, has started up an interesting project. This blogger is known as Opinionated Man, and on his blog HarsH ReaLiTy he has come up with the idea for “Project O“. Basically, throughout the month of September he is going to be researching and discussing the concept of “opinions”, what they are, where they come from, what factors in our lives affect the ones we have. He plans to do this by way of information gathered from us, the bloggers, the readers, the people around the world connected together by the internet.

opinionsI thought this sounded particularly interesting, so when I saw that he released a template of questions for use in the project, I decided to write a blog post answering them. As per his requests, I will also be emailing my answers to him for use in the project, and I urge you to do so as well, should you decide to take part on your own blogs.

So without further ado, here we go:

Question 1: Please provide a window into who you are, some background information in a not too overwhelming profile here.

I’m a wife and mother, and an only child, but I grew up positively surrounded by cousins. I was a book-nerd kind of kid growing up, as well as a bit of a geek (I liked Star Wars, anime, video games, etc). I never had a lot of friends, but I loved the few I did have. I’ve wanted to be a fiction writer since the third grade, but somehow or other I became an instrumentation technician by trade. It’s a very male-dominated field but I’ve had surprisingly few issues in my seven years in the trade. These days I write whenever I can and aspire to become published sooner rather than later.

Question 2: If you havenā€™t already done so please provide your country of origin, whether you are male or female, an age would be nice, and where you currently live if that differs from the country of origin.

Country of origin and the country I’m currently living in are both Canada. I’m female and 29 years old.

Question 3: Recount the first time you remember having a differing opinion from someone significantly older than you. Do you remember what the topic was about? Did you voice your opinion or hold it to yourself?

The first time I can remember having a really strong opinion to the opposite of my elders was when I first started to realize that I thought religion was hooey. I was in the 7th or 8th grade, I believe, which is when Catholic kids complete their “Confirmation” ritual. It involves going to church every week for so many weeks and doing this and that and there’s a big ceremony at the end…and after a couple of weeks of church (I hadn’t really gone since I was little) I remember thinking, “This is ridiculous, I don’t believe a word of it, and so why am I trying to become a permanent member of this church?”

I did voice my opinion to my father, who more or less told me that I could believe whatever I wanted, but that it would probably be worth it to just complete the confirmation and be done with it since some of my family is very religious and it would likely have ended up in a huge fight. I took his advice and never went to church again after that ceremony.

Question 4: What levels of respect were practiced around you when you were a child? Was there bowing involved, handshakes, ā€œyes Sirs and yes Maā€™ams,ā€ or someĀ  other equivalent respectfulness in your cultureā€™s tongue? Is an honorific given to someone older than you and do you often respect and practice that? How might the culture you were brought up in have affected the growth of your own opinions?

There weren’t a lot of honorifics in my childhood. Mostly we were just expected to watch our mouths (no profanity) and our tones (no smart-mouthing). I don’t know if it was a product of my upbringing, or if it’s a general feeling that I absorbed from my environment, but I grew up believing that age has nothing to do with respect, and that it doesn’t matter if you’re 100 years old and I’m five, you do not automatically get my respect if you haven’t earned it. There are, in my opinion, too many older people out there who feel that they should be respected by the sheer fact that they’ve survived for a while longer.

Question 5: How traveled are you and to what degree do you keep up with international news? You might also provide an educational background if you wish and if that education was gained from somewhere other than your current location. How available is the news and what goes on in the outside world to you in your country?

I’m not particularly traveled. I’ve only traveled within Canada, and not even all the way across (I’ve started in Nova Scotia and gone as far as Alberta). I obtained my education (Bachelor of Technology) in Nova Scotia. International news is available enough here (if not a little bit “tweeked” by the media), but I can honestly say that the degree to which I keep up with it is minimal at best. I glean my news stories from what others deem to be important (my husband might tell me about something, or my father might post a status update about it on Facebook). It’s not that I don’t care what’s happening in other areas of the world, but I’m the kind of person who can barely handle the events going on in her own life, never mind the lives of people I’ve never met.

Question 6: If you could share an opinion on a single international incident or topicĀ that you either feel strongly about or that might not be known to the rest of the world what would it be? You have our attention.

As mentioned above, I don’t really keep up on the news or international incidents, but if there was one topic that I’d impress upon the world if I could, it would be the stigmas surrounding depression. These days it’s been proven that depression can stem from any number of factors, including physical (hormonal, for instance) ones that in no way reflect a person’s life or situation. I’ve seen people be berated for “pretending to be depressed” because the feeling is that someone can’t be depressed if they have what is considered to be a “good life”. Too many people think that depression is only allowed if the person has “real” reasons (got fired, wife left, someone close died) to be depressed, but there are scads of reasons for someone being depressed. I myself had a doctor check me out for chemical-imbalance depression because of a couple of other complaints I had brought to him, and the reaction I got from a few people close to me was very simply, “you’re not depressed”, as if it was an impossibility. I wasn’t, but that doesn’t give anyone the right to presume to know what’s going on in my mind and body, and true depression – whatever the cause – is a very dangerous thing to ignore and scoff away.

Question 7: What does the right to an opinion mean to you? Is it essential to freedom to have this right? How far would you go to protect that ability? The world is on fire with people of passion, how passionate are you about things you value?

This is a tough one because while I believe everyone has a right to their opinion, there are plenty of cases in which someone’s opinion is clearly wrong or psychotic. For instance, a kid who shot up his school because he was being bullied had the opinion that his tormenters deserved to die.

I do believe that everyone has a right to their opinion, but how you act on that opinion is the real trick.

I’m passionate about a great many things (the depression issue above, acts that I consider to be extremely poor parenting, the current employment insurance scandal going on in Canada, and so on), and this kind of passion inevitably leads to a battling of opinions. It can be very difficult, in these situations, to grit your teeth and accept that other people have different opinions. How does one find a happy medium in this sense when your opinion is that another person’s opinion is wrong? It’s a bit of a catch-22, isn’t it?

Question 8: Is it ever right for you to be allowed an opinion while someone else is denied that same right on the same topic?

In my opinion (haha, this is getting silly…) there are plenty of situations where I would deny someone their opinion. People are going to have an opinion whether you like it or not, because that’s the way that works, but I would deny someone their opinion if they had absolutely no knowledge or experience of the topic at hand. For instance, say I’m yelling at my daughter in the mall for doing something bad, and someone comes up to me and berates me for yelling at her because I’m “causing her psychological issues”. If that person has no kids of their own, has experienced no psychological issues as a result of the same kind of situation, and has never so much as opened a book on psychology, then what right do they have to impress their completely-pulled-out-of-my-ass opinion on me?

Question 9: The last question. upon completing this template and hopefully contemplating the issue what does this project mean to you? How can Project O potentially enlighten or help the world?

Mostly I’m interested to see some of the outcomes of these questions. Opinions are a tricky concept because they can come from so many different places, including but not limited to plain old base emotion. I hope that reading other peoples’ responses to these questions will help people to understand each other a bit, and maybe even help them learn a bit of tolerance.

“Assume” Makes an “Ass” out of U and M-…Actually, No, Just You.

I’ve mentioned this before, but in order to fully understand this post it bears repeating that I’m an instrumentation technician by trade. What this means, for those who have never heard of the term “instrumentation” is that I work with the machinery, special technology, and programing that makes plants, factories, refineries, and so on run. These days it’s a very technological field with lots of computer-intensive work, but less than two decades ago it was a very grease-monkey-esque kind of job. Even today, depending on which area you work in, there’s a lot of bull-work, messy work, physically demanding work, and good old fashioned beat-crap-with-a-wrench-until-it-works kind of work. In other words, it’s a male-dominated field.

grouppicWhen I first began working at the paper mill where I got my first career-related job, I was actually the first woman to ever be hired to work on the maintenance team. From the day the mill opened over 50 years ago, to the day I was hired approximately 7 years ago, the only women who had ever worked at that mill were secretaries, clerical workers, or the types of engineers who spend most of their time at a desk. I was the first one to actually be out in the field, getting my hands dirty, working on the machinery. In those first few months I got quite a few looks from the men – especially the older ones – and I can’t really blame them too much because I was 22, short and small, and unassuming. I looked like the kind of girl who spent a lot of time fixing her lipstick in the morning (a stereotype that was exacerbated by the fact that I’ve always worn bright red lipstick, regardless of what I was going to be doing that day). But here’s the thing; even though I got a few looks here and there, and it took the guys a while to get used to the fact that there was a woman on their team, the guys I worked with were civil. Even if they secretly thought I was a joke and that I should go home and find a job more befitting a woman’s stature, they never said anything. If they had a problem with me being there, doing the job that had been a man’s job for decades, they kept that attitude to themselves.

Where it belongs.

Fast forward seven years to the present. Last week I woke up to an unpleasant surprise. The plastic tubing running to the water filter in our basement split, and was spraying all over the room. It was quite a mess. The tubing was shot and the small valve that isolates that particular piece of tubing was faulty, so we had to turn off our main water line to stop the leak. Until the tube and the valve were replaced, we had no water.

Now here’s the thing; I’m an instrumentation tech, and my husband is an electrician. Neither of us is a plumber, but instrumentation is a hell of a lot closer to plumbing than electrical is. As part of my job I understand tubing and valves. They aren’t rocket science, especially when you’ve seen a million of them. So since my knowledge was a step up from my husband’s, I detached the broken parts, hopped in the car, and headed off to Central to get some replacements.

Here’s where the story goes sour, because, you see, Central has a lot of bits and bobs. In the enormous aisle filled with shelves and shelves of parts, I couldn’t locate the one particular valve I needed, and after a lengthy search I decided to ask for assistance. The man who was running the Plumbing counter was about 50 years old or so, and I could see the look in his eye the second I approached him.

A few extra bits of information before I finish this tale:
– I arrived at Central in the clothes I’d been wearing while dealing with the leak, which were dirty and wet,
– I was tired-looking and probably a bit stinky because I hadn’t had a shower yet,
– I was holding the broken parts when I approached the clerk,
– I quickly demonstrated my knowledge by asked forĀ  a replacement part by name, and explaining what size pipe I needed the part for.

In other words, everything about my appearance and the words that came from my mouth showed that I had been the one dealing with the problem. Regardless of all that, would anyone like to guess what the first words to come out of the 50-year-old male clerk’s mouth were?

“Well, hon, what your husband has to do is…”

It truly amazes me how in this day and age, a customer service representative would find it acceptable to jump to that sort of assumption. Also, he used that exact phrase at least three more times before I was finished talking with him.

IMG_0959I mentioned this encounter on Facebook later that day, once I’d (successfully!) repaired the leak and restored water to our home. The responses that I got were ones of empathy from friends who had dealt with the same thing. One woman had a real estate agent constantly hyping a large garage to her husband even though the husband doesn’t drive and it’s the wife who was interested in the garage in the first place. Another friend, who happens to be of a race with dark skin, was told by a salesperson in a formal clothing store that “someone like him wouldn’t be interested in those clothes”. Another man chimed in that he was once told that the most important thing women look for in buying a car is the cup-holders.

We all make assumptions sometimes – it’s human nature – but it amazes me how often those assumptions are put into play by people who should know better. So often these people are trying to sell you something and they don’t seem to be able to understand why it’s bad form to insult you in the process.

I have many other stories I could share on this topic, like the drum salesman who tried to convince me to pay an extra $100 to set up the drums for me (I built them myself in less than 20 minutes without instructions), or the furniture salespeople who used to ignore Jason and I because we wear geeky shirts and look young (we were making damn fine money at the time). I could probably go on and on forever, but I won’t because I’m convinced of something: that is, every person who is reading this right now probably has their own stories. Right now there are probably people reading this post who were accused of being fat cows when they were 9 months pregnant, or who were laughed out of a high-end clothing store because they weren’t “pretty enough” according to the snarky clerks, or who have seen mothers pull their children away from them because they have a lot of tattoos.

It’s a sad truth of humanity that these things continue to happen even in this day and age when we should have gotten past judging people by appearance alone. The old saying is that “assume makes an ass out of u and me”, but I disagree. To the jerk at Central who assumed that I was a fragile little thing who must be out fetching parts for my dear, manly, fix-it-all husband, I say this: assume makes an ass out of YOU, buddy. Me, I’m totally in the clear.

Have you ever had to deal with people making idiotic assumptions about you? How did you react? How did it make you feel? Please share!

Gender Insignificant

Gender stereotypes.

Paying attention? I’d be willing to bet that you are because these two words, when combined, create panic attacks and mass hysteria, especially when applied to children.

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You said it, Joker.

Gender stereotypes are something that I’ve personally never played into. As a little girl I was a bit of a tomboy who preferred pants to skirts, blue to pink, and climbing trees to tea parties, but I also liked baby dolls and My Little Pony. I grew up to become a woman working in a male dominated field, but I do so wearing red lipstick and nail polish. I guess you could say that I’m a feminine tomboy. Does that make sense? Sure it does. Move on already, geeze.

I just happened to turn out the way I am through neither the fault nor the effort of my parents or the other people in my life. My mom tried to get me to wear more girlie clothes, but I mostly vetoed her; my slew of male cousins tried to get me into things like fishing and shooting pellet guns, but I never really caught on to those things. I was pretty adamant that I liked what I liked, and to hell with the rest.

When I was a kid the topic of gender stereotypes didn’t really exist as far as I was concerned, but now that I have a child of my own, I see the argument in a much different light. It makes me raise a critical eyebrow.

People are absolutely nuts when it comes to the gender stereotype issue. Absolutely nuts.

There are two major groups that I can discern. The first are the people who cling to the gender stereotypes. These people believe that girls belong in pink skirts, and boys in blue pants. They believe that girls should play with dolls and boys with trucks. Girls should be gentle and sensitive, boys should be rough and tough. Girls grow up to be mothers who take care of the household, boys grow up to be the providers. To the minds of these people, any deviation from the norm is some kind of horrible character flaw. They’re terrified that allowing children to experience anything outside their gender’s “rulebook” will create ultra-feminists and flamboyant gays, which is a concept that, aside from being just ridiculously prejudiced and bigoted, couldn’t be any less based in actual fact.

Second, you have the other side who take it to the exact opposite extreme. These people think that kids who stick to concepts that are traditionally labeled to their gender makes them somehow socially backward. A little girl who dreams of being a princess is an embarrassment to “enlightened” women. A little boy who likes superheroes is automatically a typical testosterone-laden chauvinist. By choosing to embrace things that fall into the stereotypes we’ve grown up with for decades, these kids are thought to be some kind of terrible example of the rampant sexism in the world and people’s unwillingness to advance.

Does anyone beside me think that both of these types of people are a little looney?

You want to know what I think? (Well it doesn’t matter because it’s my blog and I’m going to tell you anyway!) I think that, for a change, we should just stand back and let the kids make their own decisions as to what to surround themselves with. Give them the opportunity and let them figure it out on their own what they like, instead of what you think they should like. I promise you that what toys he plays with does not decide whether your little boy is going to be a vicious brute or be sexually confused, and that your little girl is not going to become a vapid slut or develop unhealthy female body expectations just because she happens to like Barbie dolls.

I’ve said this before, but kids aren’t born understanding things like stereotypes and prejudice; they learn it because we inflict it upon them. The choices they make on their own are innocent, free of our perceived consequences. If a little girl likes trucks it’s not because she’s too masculine, nor does it mean she’s a strong, enlightened woman; it’s because trucks are fun toys. That’s it. End of discussion. If a little boy likes to play with tea sets it does not mean that he’s destined to be gay, nor does it mean that he’s advanced and in touch with his feminine side; it means that tea sets are fun toys. Honestly, that’s really all that goes through a child’s mind:

“Is it fun? No? Get that crap away from me!”

“Is it fun? Yes? Gimmi gimmi gimmi!”

Kids learn from us, and it’s our habit of focusing on gender stereotypes that is the real problem. By making a big deal out of it, one way or the other, we reinforce that this is an issue and it therefore becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Seriously, if we would just pretend that the issue doesn’t even exist and let kids figure out what they enjoy on their own, it’ll be much, much easier on everyone. I promise.

(And yes, before any smart-asses point it out, I realize that I am, by way of this blog post, “focusing on the issue”. You know what I mean; stop being purposely contradictory.)

My daughter is now 2 and a half. We’ve imposed nothing on her (except for, obviously, we’re the ones who have been buying her clothes), and she is one of the most well-rounded toddlers I know. She loves reading books and she loves running and jumping. She has tea parties and she has water gun fights. She loves her My Little Pony t-shirts and she loves her Ninja Turtles pajamas. She likes purple and pink, and blue and green. Her mother is on the other side of the country two weeks out of every four, and her father is a stay-at-home-dad, and you know what? It hasn’t affected her one bit…because why would it?

It’s time to stop pushing our kids to be the way we believe they should be and let them figure out who they want to be. Wouldn’t you have wanted that as a child, had you been given the choice? Please share your thoughts and comments!

Internally Inspirational

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnaginā€™s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

40. Where to find inspiration

Ah, inspiration…that elusive elixir of writer-juice. Did I seriously just say “writer-juice”? That is a lack of inspiration right there, if ever there was one.

If there’s one thing that’s as hard to get a grasp on as motivation, it’s inspiration. How many times has a writer sat down in front of a blank piece of paper or an unsullied word processor file and just stared, dumbstruck, unable to produce words? I’d be willing to stake my reputation (such as it is) that for every word that made it on to the page, a hundred went unwritten simply because the writer couldn’t grasp the inspiration required to create.

There’s an old adage that one should “write what you know”. On one hand, I disagree with this concept. If we all only wrote what we “know”, the world of literature would be a pretty boring place, since everything would have to be based on facts and the physical reality of this world. We would never have books about magic and dragons, alien worlds and alternate realities, creatures of the night and immortal gods of the universe. If we write only what we “know” we find ourselves trapped in reality, and while that is fine for some books, it cuts our possibilities by a vast, positively immense number.

On the other hand, writing what we “know” can be excellent inspiration. Look at the world around you. Some of the people we see every day can make excellent characters for our books if we just tweak them a little bit. Look at their habits and mannerisms, their quirks and unique personalities. Some of my favorite characters are based on people I know in real life, and many popular, successful authors have admitted to doing the same.

Similarly, sometimes we only have to look as far as our own pasts to find nuggets of inspiration for our stories. Two years ago for NaNoWriMo I decided to write a supernatural romance (don’t judge me) and was having a difficult time with the setting. I already had an idea of who my characters were going to be and I knew I wanted them to get trapped together, but I was having a hard time with how they would meet and why they would get trapped there. I wanted my idea to be at least marginally original, since much of my story was likely to follow along the lines of the ever-expending world of soft-core vampire porn (what did I say about judging me?!). I thought about it for a while before I came up with a great idea. My female character would work in a paper mill. It was a great idea for several reasons. One: I worked in a paper mill, so I could describe it realistically. Two: I know what it’s like to be a woman in a male-dominated field, so I could express my character realistically. Three: it gave a believable explanationĀ  for my characters to be trapped there together…see, my male character was a werewolf being hunted by other werewolves, and since a paper mill is rife with the smells of steam, pulp, and chemicals, it’s reasonable to believe that the other werewolves wouldn’t be able to track his scent from there.

Of course, inspiration can come from many other sources: dreams, other forms of media (remember, nothing is truly original anymore), world experience such as traveling, and not to mention good old fashioned research. Inspiration can really be found anywhere if you’re just willing to look for it. But I do truly believe that most of the time all we have to do is look at ourselves, our own lives and experiences, the people and places we’ve known or seen, the things that interest and amuse us. Sit back and think for a minute, and then…write.